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Nathan Byrd was back racing USAC midgets in California last weekend. (Byrd Racing photo)

BYRD: More Learning On The Dirt

VENTURA, Calif. — It was another weekend of wild action during the West Coast Swing for the USAC Racing National Midget Championship. It started with back-to-back events at Merced Speedway.

Then, it was off to the Turkey Night Grand Prix at Ventura Raceway where I raced a sprint car and a midget.

My first session on the track at Merced Speedway was a clear indicator of my improvement as a dirt-track driver. Although we only got three flying laps, my best lap was 12.879 seconds, with the best lap of the session a 11.729. I had a more competitive pace than when I first arrived at Placerville Speedway, being only 1.1 seconds off fast time as compared to my first session at Placerville when I was 2.2 seconds off.

This was a clear indicator my comfort level with the car had grown.

I followed up my hot laps with a 13.035, 1.2 seconds off the pole time. I started last in the 10-lap heat race and treated it as a chance to get more familiar with the car and track. My fastest lap was a 12.981, with most of the rest of my laps being 13.1 seconds or 13.0. The fastest lap of the race was almost one second faster than mine, an indication I had closed the gap.

There was a crash on the backstretch that cut the race one lap short and left one of my competitors injured.

That was a reminder to me of the dangers of racing.

The final race of day one at Merced was the C main, where I managed to beat a couple cars with drivers around my experience level. I finished the 10-lap race with a fast lap of 13.427 on my second lap. That was only six-tenths off the fastest lap of the race. It was a difficult race because of the slick track conditions. I started off strong but fell off as the proper driving technique around the track eluded me.

I did not transfer to the B main and that was the end my first day at Merced Speedway.

Day two wasn’t much different in terms of results, but I continued to show signs of improvement as a driver. In hot laps, I didn’t have my transponder on the car so I couldn’t get an official time. However, Cory Kruseman wanted me to run a different line for qualifying, one that would keep me away from the danger of the cushion, which was seeming to get too big and difficult to handle.

I did my best to follow his instructions but ended up with a bad qualifying effort, one that landed me 1.7 seconds off the pole.

I was perplexed by what had gone wrong but was nonetheless determined to keep pushing and learning and trusting the process, as Cory said. I finished last in my heat race with a fast lap that was 1.2 seconds off the fastest of the race. My final race at Merced was C main, which went relatively smoothly.

It was another day full of lessons and experiences and laps to build my confidence, technique, and comfortability in the crazy world of dirt midget racing. I got a slight reprieve from the race-week hotel life when I flew back to Arizona to have Thanksgiving with my Nana and sister, which was a blessing. But I was quickly back to the track for the Turkey Night Grand Prix weekend at Ventura.

I was competing in a midget and a 360 sprint car. I was excited to see how all my newfound dirt experience from the midget the past two weeks would translate to Ventura Raceway, the dirt track where I have the most experience.

The two-day event began on Friday for the sprint cars. I was 37th fastest out of the 49 cars that were entered, one-tenth slower than my teammate, Gage Rucker. In my heat race, I was involved in an incident on lap one. After having the car checked out in the work area, I finished sixth and my fast lap was only .6 seconds off the fastest lap of the race.

I started eighth and finished fifth in my qualifying race, avoiding several incidents along the way.

We also practiced the midget and that helped me to figure out what I needed to do in the sprint car, and vice versa.

The extra laps and seat time helped me translate what I had learned the past two weeks and meld it with what I had learned from my previous experiences at Ventura. In midget practice, I was 37th quick out of 46 cars and 1.3 seconds slower than the fastest car. My point total placed me in one of the two sprint car B mains on Saturday.

My Dad believed our goals for the night were to advance to the feature in the sprint car and make the Last Chance Qualifier in the midget. If I were able to do both of those things, then it would be a very successful day of racing for me.

I was 45th fastest out of 56 midgets during hot laps, 1.4 seconds off the fastest lap.

The midget qualifying race ended up being my final midget race of the year. I started several rows back on the inside and long-story-short, it wasn’t a great race for me. All that was left was the sprint car B main. The only way I could redeem myself from my poor midget performance was if I qualified for the sprint car feature.

I started the race fourth and after a couple of laps of raciness was about to get passed by the car behind when a caution came out. I ended up restarting in third, but within two laps was down to sixth after getting held up by a slower car.

After another restart, I was happy when I finished the race in fourth, securing a spot in the feature. No matter what happened in the feature, I had redeemed myself and accomplished one of our goals for the night, which was nice. The final race of my night was the 30-lap feature. I started 16th and ultimately ended up finishing where I started.

I had a tight car and it was hard to get it turned through the corners. I was jockeyed down to 18th place before a red flag came out and I was told by my crew chief to come to the work area. I had a leak in my right-rear tire which had reduced the stagger in the car and was causing it to be super tight.

The crew pumped it with air to, hopefully, counteract the eventual drop in pressure that would occur throughout the rest of the race. Unfortunately, this trip to the work area meant I had to start at the tail of the field in 20th. For 10 laps we ran around under green-flag conditions as I maintained 20th and then the last 10 laps of the race, I picked up a few spots as guys took themselves out and got involved in incidents.

It was a crazy race having to deal with and overcome all the adversity and events around me, and I was just grateful that I was able to get another 30 laps of dirt-racing experience. Overall, the week proved I have some promise in dirt racing, but that it will take an absolute campaign to get the experience and laps necessary to become competitive on dirt.

I am absolutely determined to do so and to master the discipline eventually, but I am under no impression that it won’t take some time. I can’t thank Cory Kruseman and the crew enough for all their hard work these past couple of weeks and their willingness to invest their time, energy and knowledge into a back-of-the-pack dirt rookie.

It means the world to me and I thank God for the blessings I’ve been provided in pursuing this multi-disciplined motorsport career.